San Diego State hosts San Jose State Friday in the second of three consecutive Friday night contests for the Aztecs. Last week, San Diego State traveled to Fresno State and came away with a 17-3 victory, which pushed the Aztecs to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Mountain West play.
The Aztecs have now won 14 consecutive games against conference opponents, and return home to Qualcomm Stadium where they have won eight in a row overall and 12 straight against Mountain West foes. San Diego State also has beaten the Spartans in each of their past three meetings, including a 30-7 victory last season.
San Jose State is working on a short week, but picked up some much-needed momentum after successfully completing an 84-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to beat Nevada 14-10 Saturday night. The win snapped a four-game losing streak as the Spartans improved to 2-5 overall and 1-2 in the Mountain West.
San Jose State at San Diego State
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 21 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: San Diego State -23.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dark Horse Heisman Trophy Candidate Donnel Pumphrey
After rushing for 220 yards and two touchdowns last week against Fresno State, Pumphrey moved into the No. 8 spot on the official NCAA FBS career rushing list. Pumphrey leads the nation with 1,111 rushing yards for an average of 185.2 per game He needs just 1,015 rushing yards to break the all-time record, and is just 216 yards away from a spot in the top five.
Despite being just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Pumphrey has proven himself to be a workhorse for the Aztecs. He has carried the football at least 21 times in each game this season, having surpassed 30 attempts in each of the last two. But, even with a heavy workload, Pumphrey is averaging 6.65 yards per carry, which ranks fourth in the country among players with at least 100 rushing attempts. His 11 rushing touchdowns currently rank second nationally and he’s first with 207.0 all-purpose yards per game.
In three career games against the Spartans, Pumphrey has rushed for 491 yards on 51 carries (9.63 yards per attempt) with five touchdowns. He also has caught five passes for 80 yards and another score.
2. The Line of Scrimmage
Pumphrey has excelled this season thanks in no small part to a veteran offensive line led by NFL prospect Nico Siragusa. The 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior guard will make his 35th career start for the Aztecs Friday, and is one of four offensive linemen with 20 or more career starts.
However, the Aztecs have surrendered 13 sacks this season in just 122 pass attempts. The unit has allowed at least one sack in each game this season, and opponents have sacked quarterback Christian Chapman three times or more in three separate games. Chapman has completed 62.8 percent of his passes for 984 yards, eight TDs and two interceptions, but has often had to deal with heavy pressure.
Nevertheless, the Aztecs have done a much better job of protecting their quarterback than San Jose State. The Spartans have allowed an astounding 33 sacks this season — four more than any other team in the country. San Jose State has allowed at least three sacks to every FBS opponent it has faced this season, including 10 in a 34-17 loss to Utah. In three Mountain West games, the Spartans have surrendered 13 sacks.
It’s therefore no surprise then that San Jose State quarterbacks have struggled at times this year. Senior starter Kenny Potter has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 1,148 yards and nine touchdowns, but is tied for the Mountain West lead with six interceptions despite missing the entire 44-10 loss to Iowa State in Week 4.
But, the Spartans have blocked well in the run game, paving the way for Malik Robertson (329 yards, TD), Deontae Cooper (327, 2), and Zamore Zigler (311s, 3), each of whom have at least one 100-yard game this season. Robertson has emerged as the go-to back over the last two weeks and is coming off of a 139 yards on a career-high 35 carries against Nevada last week.
3. A Tale of Two Defenses
Under the direction of head coach and defensive coordinator Rocky Long, San Diego State leads the Mountain West in total defense (297.2 yards per game), yards per play (4.69), rush defense (98.0 ypg), yards per carry (3.06), interceptions (11), and third down conversion rate (31.46 percent). The Aztecs rank second in scoring defense (20.0 ppg) and are third against the pass (199.2 ypg). San Diego State also has limited opponents’ big plays. The Aztecs have allowed only 58 plays of 10 yards or more and 18 plays of 20-plus yards, both of which lead the league and rank among the top six in the nation.
On the other hand, San Jose State ranks No. 11 in the conference in total defense (444.0 ypg) and is tied for last in the league in yards allowed per play (6.63), which ranks No. 122 nationally. The Spartans have surrendered 228.3 rushing yards per game and an average of 5.36 yards per carry. Those figures rank No. 113 and No. 120 in the country, respectively. The Spartans have also allowed 41 plays of 20 yards or more (No. 121), 15 plays of 40 yards or more (No. 125), and 24 plays of 30-plus yards, which is the most in the country.
Still, there’s some hope: the Spartans have put together their two best efforts against the run over their last two games, holding Hawaii and Nevada to a combined 257 yards and giving up 3.95 yards per carry. And, last week, Nevada gained just 257 total yards, which gave the Spartans a season-best average of 4.59 yards allowed per play. Also, San Jose State ranks third in the Mountain West with seven interceptions, and the Spartans are tied atop the league (and rank 17th in the nation) with 13 turnovers. The Spartans are a close second in the league with a 34.48 percent opponent success rate on third downs, and the Spartans also have recorded 13 sacks in seven games this year, which matches the team’s total from the entire 2015 season.
Both San Diego State and San Jose State like to run the football, though the Aztecs have an edge in both rushing and stopping the run. If the Spartans are unable to get the ground game going, they’ll need the offensive line to step up and give Potter time to find his explosive sophomore wide receiver duo of Tre Hartley (25 receptions, 422 yards, 2 TDs) and Justin Holmes (20, 365, 2). Given the O-line’s struggles in pass protection this year, as well as the Aztecs’ ball-hawking secondary; it’s unlikely the Spartans can win the game through the air, either.
Expect San Diego State to control the tempo of the game by leaning on Donnel Pumphrey, and to cruise to another Mountain West victory.
Prediction: San Diego State 31, San Jose State 10
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.